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Supported byContinue reading the main storyThe NYT Parenting Newsletter
How caregivers can protect children from vicious trolls who infiltrate virtual games and chats..Credit...Jamiel Law
By Misha Valencia
Sept. 8, 2021Updated 10:40 a.m. ETExtremists targeted my 12-year-old son online.
He was playing a virtual game with friends over the summer when another child let a user into the group who they had not played with before. That account then ushered in other users, and several days later they launched a toxic tirade of harassment and flooded the chat with anti-Semitic vitriol, swastikas and neo-Nazi propaganda.When my son pushed back, they bombarded him with aggressive, hateful messages. As soon as we blocked and reported one abusive account, another disturbing message would appear within seconds in a seemingly coordinated attack.
My son and I had previously discussed what to do if he was ever targeted online, or witnessed harassment, and we were able to respond quickly, but his experience is not unusual.Hate speech and online abuse have been pervasive in digital spaces for many years, but the use of gaming and messaging platforms by extremists and the alt-right to target younger users is increasing as more children play online. A 2017 Pew study found that 90 percent of teens now use gaming platforms; and a 2019 survey from Common Sense Media found that 64 percent of tweens 8 to 12 years old play online games.